a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures
Error correction is something I think we are all aware of but perhaps don’t realise the importance of. One day in the classroom when I was feeling particularly grumpy and mean, I found myself constantly correcting my students while they were talking – if it was to me, to their friends or to the class. Much to my surprise, my students loved it. Weird, huh?
But then I thought about it and it kinda made sense. The reason they are there is to learn English and speak English and this is the one occasion when they have a native-speaker available to make sure they are speaking correctly; otherwise, they may as well be speaking to other learners of English.
So I started doing it on a regular basis but in two different ways:
1. During the lesson I listen closely to the students talking and note down their mistakes.
It’s important to take note of the fragment or the sentence so the context is not lost. At the end of the lesson, with those last ten minutes which you often don’t know what to do with anyway, I write those sentences on the board. They remain anonymous but the perpetrators usually squeal with excitement when they see their mistake. First, the students need to think about the sentences on their own. Then they can discuss it with their partners. After a few minutes, I go over the sentences with the class, letting them correct where possible but otherwise correcting them myself.
2. I warn the students that they are only allowed to speak perfect English for the next 10/20/30 minutes – depending how much energy I have.
The first time they will either worry that they wont be able to say anything or they will say something silly like “Of course, Teacher” or “Always, Teacher”. But the truth of the situation is that they will. During that time period, whenever a mistake is made, I will stop the student and make them reformulate until they get it correct, then they can continue. This can be done with the help of other students or, in moments of extreme pain and frustration, give the correct form to them. This should be done during a speaking activity and so while the activity will take longer than usual, it will help the students think carefully about what they are saying. You may even find a lot of the usual mistakes made in class are so old they have forgotten that they are mistakes – “What mean this?” and “I no understand” spring to mind. At the end of the time, everyone will be exhausted but they will be extremely proud of having spoken perfect English.
So, give these two a try. You might find your students appreciate the personal attention and individualised correction. Or they’ll just stop talking, and everyone can enjoy the golden silence of perfect English in the classroom 😉